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Terminator 2: Judgment Day Was Almost Arnold Vs. Arnold

Bottom line: Moviemaking is a lot like time travel.

By Josh Weiss

What's scarier than one bloodthirsty Xenomorph crawling through the vents? An entire nest of bloodthirsty Xenomorphs crawling through the vents! What's scarier than one assassin robot from the future? An assassin robot from the future capable of changing its shape at will!  

When it comes to upping the ante for sequels, no one does it better than James Cameron, who understands that franchises can be more than just easy cash-grabs. A sequel, as Mr. Cameron has proven again and again throughout his legendary filmmaking career, must justify its own existence by adding a novel extension to an already-solid foundation. Sure, you can use similar ingredients, but you must follow an entirely different recipe. If you've done your job correctly, the second, third, or even fourth movie in a series will both enhance what has come before and stand on its own two feet.

That's why Cameron's cinematic world-building has been so successful: he refuses to give audiences the same experience twice, even if he's playing in a familiar sandbox. Take, for instance, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (now streaming on Peacock). The sci-fi sequel by which all other sequels are judged, totally upended audience expectations by turning Arnold Schwarzenegger's unstoppable android into a lovable hero. More than that, it brilliantly expanded the Terminator lore with the introduction of Robert Patrick as the liquidous T-1000. Had Cameron gone through with his original idea for the villain, however, T2 may not have become an enduring genre classic.

For More on Terminator:
How ‘The Terminator’ films influenced the screenplay for time travel classic ’12 Monkeys’
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James Cameron explains why he thinks 'Terminator: Dark Fate' didn't work

Arnold Schwarzenegger Almost Battled Himself in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) appears shirtless in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991).

Speaking with The Ringer in 2021, the writer-director revealed that his original idea for the movie involved a pair of T-800s (both played by Schwarzenegger, of course) being sent back in time. One would try to kill John Conner (Edward Furlong), while the other was reprogrammed by the human Resistance to protect the boy. Not irredeemably bad by any stretch of the imagination, but co-writer William Wisher knew they could do so much better. "Having Arnold fight another Arnold is just boring. Boring, boring, boring," he said.

But that was only one small part of the narrative. Once the good T-800 dispatches its evil counterpart, Skynet decides to unleash an "experimental, one-off super weapon" that ultimately became the T-1000. "And so now the thing that’s coming at you is much, much scarier than that other metal endoskeleton guy with his skin hanging off," Cameron explained. "I took that guy out of the story, but then I thought, 'Let’s bring that guy back. Let’s make him the adversary.' I merged the two ideas. Instead of Arnold versus Arnold, it was Arnold versus the scary liquid metal weapon."

Bottom line: moviemaking is a lot like time travel. One small change can result in wide-ranging ripples. In this case, Cameron's changed the course of history for the better by stomping on the proverbial butterfly that was a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em brawl between two Schwarzeneggers.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is now streaming on Peacock.